Don’t tell me Shaq wasn’t excited about that dunk he had late in the fourth quarter off the LeBron feed inside. He took off like Usain Bolt as soon as he hit the ground, arms pumping, sprinting back down the court looking like he stole something. He reminded me of – well Shaq – when he was racing down the court in LA wearing purple and gold celebrating a similar pass from Kobe he had just deposited through the rim during one of their title runs. Good to see from the Big Fella. Even better to see him up off the bench playing critical minutes for the Cavaliers – making pivotal plays – when his team needed him too. His play late was a big reason why the Cavaliers stopped settling for contested jumpshots beat the Raptors tonight.
The Cavaliers were up by one (95-94) with 5:31 left in the 4th quarter when Shaq caught the ball on the block in what looked to be an offensive set. Scissor cut on the perimeter by LeBron and Mo off the catch, and Shaq found Mo in the corner who drained a three. Next time down, Shaq caught it there again. Same movement, this time Shaq faked to Mo – how about that? – defense bit on the fake, and LeBron (option #2 on this particular play) came free to the hoop for a dunk. This is the type of stuff I dreamt possible when the Cavaliers signed Shaq this offseason. Throw it into O’Neal, cut off him, and let him find open shooters and cutters. Don’t forget, while he is a top-5 scorer all-time, and a horrible free throw shooter, he is also a great passer, and has been his whole career. He looked good doing that tonight, and when the Cavaliers play like that – for as much as they still can’t match up with teams like last year’s Orlando Magic the Raptors defensively, those teams can’t match up with this kind of stuff either.
Shaq finished with 16 points, 5 rebounds and those 2 assists on 7 of 10 shooting in 24 minutes. LeBron nearly had himself a Big-O, missing the triple double by 1 rebound (Ricky Davis would have gotten that board) with 28 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds. Mo made half his threes (4 of 8) to finish with 22, while no other Cavalier had double figures. The Raptors- who will be the 5-seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs this season – had 6 players in double figures, with Bosh’s 21 points and 10 rebounds leading the way.
Credit the Cavaliers for not looking past this one towards the big one on Thursday night against the Lakers. For their efforts they’ll move to 32-11 while they await Kobe and company. Check in with Glenn and I for our pregame podcast on Thursday one hour before tip-off. It should be our best Wine and Gold Podcast to date – and even if that’s not saying much, you should listen anyways.